An annual tradition unfolded in the Sparks Athletic Center on Saturday as Willamette’s Native and Indigenous Student Union (NISU) presented the 15th annual Social Pow wow. The event is also cosponsored by the Associate Students of Willamette University (ASWU) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
A near-record number of attendees included students, staff, faculty and community members, with representatives from tribes throughout Oregon and Washington. In addition, 17 different drum groups — including the host drum “Chute #8” — participated in and provided music for this year’s event.
The Social Pow wow is “a time to renew thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage.” Members of the community came together through various types of dance, song, food and Native arts and crafts. A number of local tribes and businesses also donated items for a raffle to benefit NISU.
The pow wow’s master of ceremonies was Bob Tom, a Willamette alumnus and member of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. In addition to announcing the dances and calling on drum groups to play, Tom provided background, history and commentary for attendees.
“It’s wonderful to see so many generations present at this year’s event,” said Tom, as the pow wow’s Grand Entrance concluded. “It’s important to share traditions with each other at events like this.”
Watching on was Chief William DePoe Jr. of the Siletz tribe, who came to the pow wow from his home in Seattle. DePoe is a longtime friend of Tom, having met him during a high school basketball tournament in the Seattle area.
The city of Depoe Bay on the Central Oregon Coast is named for DePoe’s ancestors. DePoe has attended nearly all of Willamette’s pow wows, and his nephew, Shane, graduated from Willamette in 2014.
Liz Bahe, director of Native American programs, credits students with making Willamette’s pow wow a successful event.
“Our students greet dancers, drummers and vendors and help them unload their cars,” said Bahe. “Once on campus, our visitors feel welcome and comfortable, strengthening Willamette’s connection with the Native American community.”
This has led the Willamette pow wow to become a yearly tradition for many local tribes and families.
That spirit of tradition was evident in this year’s event. Elders, grandparents and parents, often hand in hand, brought their children to the arena floor to teach dances. Members of drum circles shared stories and life updates between songs.
And guests — many of whom have never attended a pow wow before — watched in wonder and amazement, as they pointed out the intricate outfits of the dancers and made new traditions over a piece of traditional Indian frybread.